MULTINATIONALS
FBI probes companies in Brazil bribery case

The FBI is investigating corporate giants Johnson & Johnson, Siemens, General Electric and Philips for allegedly paying kickbacks as part of a scheme involving medical equipment sales in Brazil, two Brazilian investigators have told Reuters.

The firms are suspected by Brazilian prosecutors of channeling illegal payoffs to government officials to secure contracts with public health programs across the South American country over the past two decades.

Brazilian authorities say more than 20 companies may have been part of a “cartel” that paid bribes and charged the government inflated prices for medical gear such as magnetic resonance imaging machines and prosthetics.

The four multinationals, with a combined market capitalization of nearly $600 billion at Thursday’s market close, are the largest foreign enterprises to be investigated in an unprecedented anti-corruption push in Brazil in recent years.

The FBI would not confirm or deny the existence of any investigations.

Big U.S. and European firms found to have engaged in wrongdoing in Brazil could also face heavy fines and other punishment under the U.S. Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Since 1977, that law has made it illegal for American citizens, U.S. companies or foreign companies whose securities are listed in the United States to pay foreign officials to win business.

— Reuters

SHIPPING
Upper Mississippi has reopened to barges

The upper Mississippi River fully reopened to boat and barge traffic this week for the first time since November as shippers scrambled to move a backlog of overdue fertilizer barges to farmers racing to sow corn before the end of the month.

Some fertilizer shipments had been parked on river banks near St. Louis and further downriver for more than two months as the worst Midwest flooding since 1993 shuttered locks and triggered shipping restrictions on the flood-swollen waterway.

The U.S. Coast Guard lifted its shipping ban in the Mississippi River’s St. Louis harbor on Wednesday for the first time since May 2. The last upriver locks, some that were shuttered by floods in mid-March, just as they were due to open after routine winter closures, were reopened by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Thursday.

The shipping window may be short-lived, however, as heavy rains expected across the Midwest over the next week could again raise water levels on the river, the main U.S. artery for grain and fertilizer shipments.

— Reuters

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— From news services